What is our individual responsibility concerning CPR?

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“What is our individual responsibility concerning CPR?” Ensign, Mar. 1982, 21

We are hearing more and more about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Why and how can CPR revive people who have died? What is our individual responsibility concerning CPR?

Lindsay R. Curtis, retired obstetrician-gynecologist. To answer these questions I will have to pose another question: When does death actually take place?

The medical profession now recognizes two deaths: a “physiological” death, which occurs when an individual stops breathing and his heart stops beating, and a “biological” death, which takes place when the brain cells die.

In some cases of physiological death, resuscitation is possible if administered before biological death occurs. In an average case, about six minutes separate the two deaths. In the case of infants, children, and those whose temperatures are lowered during death (drowning in cold water, freezing, etc.) this interval could be longer.

Because death of the brain cells technically begins as soon as they are deprived of oxygen, resuscitation should be administered as soon as possible. It has been found that as many as fifty percent of those who die of a heart attack, for instance—whose breathing and heartbeat have stopped—can be resuscitated if CPR is begun soon enough. Skilled paramedics and emergency personnel are experts at CPR, but too often they are more than six minutes away. If we do nothing while we wait for them, we probably will wait too long. Often, an unconscious person’s heart is still beating, and so he may need only rescue breathing. But if his heart has stopped, CPR must also be administered.

It would be useful if everyone interested took a course in CPR from a qualified instructor and passed the examination so that this life-saving help could be given whenever and wherever needed. Improvement in our present survival rates depends in large part upon the prompt bystander (that’s you) who can help to administer the ABCs of CPR:

  1. Open the airway of the individual to allow breathing to take place.

  2. Give rescue breathing (mouth to mouth).

  3. Give artificial circulation by chest compression.

Courses in CPR are given by the American Red Cross, fire departments, and some hospitals to interested groups.

Some persons may feel that if an individual’s heart stops and other people try to revive him, they are tampering with the life processes and the will of the Lord, thinking the only acceptable “interference” to be a priesthood blessing.

The principle for dealing with such situations is given in the following Church News editorial:

“From the beginning of time the prophets have taught us how best to live in this … confusing world, and have assured us, as did Lehi of old, that ‘men are, that they might have joy.’ [2 Ne. 2:25.] …

“Latter-day Saints may well follow the prophets in matters of health as in other things. Leaders of the Church accept sound advice from acknowledged professional men. They themselves submit to surgery and other forms of treatment as needed, and their lives have been extended as a result. Is not their example worthy of emulation?

“We administer to the sick by the power of the priesthood. We also encourage Church members to seek the aid of skilled practitioners where necessary. We need both priesthood and competent professional help.” (18 June 1977.)

Common sense, the example of some of the Lord’s special servants, and life-saving advancements such as CPR suggest that the Lord expects us to use all the knowledge we have to help each other live out our fully allotted time on Earth.